India is the largest democracy in the world. It has always been a free country allowing dissent and free flow of ideas. This is a country that allowed speech over silence, books are loved and not feared. It is not that India did not have its darker times, but it always followed with brighter days. Be it the emergency, several natural calamities, wars, recessions, deadly viral diseases, and terrorist attacks… irrespective of the political party ruling the country, the essence of India – the unity in diversity always ensured that we overcome fear with freedom.
While the mass of the country mostly participates, there are always a few who influence. As we celebrate the 73rd Independence Day of India, Barak Bulletin takes the opportunity to highlight 15-most-influential individuals of Barak Valley, the ones who are actually the custodians of our freedom and independence. Influencers are not only the watchdog but they also shape the future with the exchange of ideas and by spreading knowledge. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King. The below-mentioned individuals play a vital role in ensuring that injustice is nowhere and justice is everywhere…
As much this is a tribute to the influencers this is also to say that a lot reside on their shoulders:
Rajdeep Roy: It is not his victory over Sushmita Dev with a margin of 80,000 plus votes that makes him the biggest influencer in Barak Valley. Doctors deal with fine margins, cutting through bones and then putting it all together. That needs precision and planning. An orthopedic surgeon, now an MP is a planner for sure. When people of Cachar went polling, he kept posting on Social Media, “We need 80% turnout” in 2014 it was 74%. The conventional wisdom that more turnout indicates change- exactly what happened in Silchar.
Roy is already seen dining with the top leadership of BJP with the influential lot. While other leaders may have to follow an order to reach Delhi with their views, it is safe to say that Roy bridged that gap. With NRC final draft just days away and commission tinkering the Assam Accord, “Rajdeep Roy Bengali” is not just going to be only an MP, he is very much the Bengali representative of Barak Valley. This responsibility in the current context is what makes him the most influential individual and hopefully, he has figured out a right plan.
Laya Madduri: The sad death of journalist Malin Sarma displayed the importance of a deputy commissioner. Traditionally, whenever there were unforeseen circumstances related to law and order, picketers marched to the residence of people’s representatives- the MPs and MLAs. Effigies of lawmakers were burnt in front of party offices. Times they have changed. After Malin Sarma’s death, DC and SP became the target of the mass. Laya Madduri an IAS is known for smiling through problems as she is always minutes away from solutions.
Soft-spoken, well-behaved yet a hawk’s eye. With so many projects going on in Cachar, Madduri’s administration will be under the scanner all throughout. If she manages to keep corruption away from her office and the projects in hand, she could well go down in history as one of the most influential DCs of all time. It is a big challenge. But, the fact that people of Cachar head to her gates instead of MPs or MLAs whenever there is a problem, makes her take the second spot in the list of the most important individuals in Barak Valley.
Ahmed Ali: Two years ago, hardly anyone knew anything about him. March 25, 2018, he became a national inspiration overnight as the country and the world got to know about his amazing story. And who narrated that story? The Prime Minister of India during his ‘Mann Ki Baat’. Ahmed Ali is a great example of the fact that you don’t need to be an MP or a DC to be an influential individual. Ahmed Ali is rickshaw puller by profession but his will power was such that he has already established nine schools for the poor to have access to education.
He once said to Barak Bulletin, “My name is written in all nine schools but the sad part is that I do not understand a word as I don’t know how to read. I don’t want anyone to feel the pain of being illiterate and so I started all these schools.” Ahmed Ali is the living example that where there is a will, there is a way.
Aminul Haque Laskar: The newly appointed deputy speaker of Assam, Sonai MLA Aminul Haque Laskar is the only member in the Sarbananda Sonowal government from the Muslim community. There was an outrage in Cachar district when he was not given any ministry after the expansion of the council of ministers. While as an MLA and deputy speaker he has his responsibilities towards his constituency and state Assembly, Aminul Haque is also the representative of the minority community. As per the 2011 census, 48.1% population belong to the Muslim community and as the only Muslim MLA from the ruling party, he has a larger responsibility in maintaining peace and communal harmony.
Recently, when a riot broke in Hailakandi, he played a vital role in calming the circumstances. In the age of Social Media and WhatsApp when fake viral videos can cause mayhem within minutes, his aura among the minority community is going to remain crucial. Balancing his party’s ideology and his minority vote share is a difficult examination, which he is passing with flying colours. BJP got a historical high vote share in Sonai MLA constituency in the recently concluded general elections of the Lok Sabha. With the NRC final draft knocking on the door, Aminul Haque Laskar will definitely play a central role in Barak Valley.
Parimal Suklabaidya: One might question the decision of putting Aminul Haque Laskar over Parimal Suklabaidya. That is a fair argument. The Dholai MLA, and the only minister in Assam Government from Barak Valley is definitely one of the most important individuals in Barak Valley. In fact, after a very long time, people of the valley became fans of a politician for his work.
While he was the PWD minister of Assam, his efforts to better the condition of roads in Barak Valley was appreciated throughout the length and breadth. But his new portfolio, Forest and Environment, Excise and Fisheries, restricts his opportunity to make large influences in Barak Valley. He and his ministry definitely has a role to play in completing the Mahasadak project which is very important for Barak Valley.
Dr. Ravi Kannan: Dr. Kannan is a surgical oncologist and was heading the surgical department at the prestigious Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai. The Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Center was founded in 1992 by a few independent individuals. The then director had known Dr. Kannan personally and used to visit him in Chennai at regular intervals. Patients who could afford was referred to him from Silchar. In 2007, in one such occasion, when the director called Dr. Kannan to talk about a patient, Kannan replied he had quit Adyar Cancer Institute and that is when the director offered him to join Cachar Cancer Hospital and Research Center located in Meherpur, Silchar. That is how Silchar got a lifeline, a lamp that people believe can help them in their darkest nights.
Kannan and his team are staying up all night to figure out a plan to ensure early detection. More than treating patients he is educating the valley by making them aware of the cost-effective way of dealing with Cancer as many refuse to undergo treatment assuming they will lose all their money.
Arijit Aditya: Despite the emergence of digital media and online publications, regional daily broadsheets continue to remain relevant and influential. Dainik Jugasankha is still very much the biggest opinion-shaper in Barak Valley. Arijit Aditya, as editor of the largest daily broadsheet, sits at the driver’s seat. On one side there is the Brahmaputra-Barak difference of opinion, on the other hand, striking a balance between advertising revenue and editorial freedom.
Arijit Aditya has a task at hand, especially at a time when Assam Accord, Citizenship Amendment Bill and NRC- processes that divide the population of the state in two different poles. How Arijit Aditya manages to build the Chinese walls to ensure that one is not affecting other remains to be seen. If Dainik Jugasankha is exhibiting journalism of courage or prevailing the truth is often questioned and something that Arijit Aditya will always have to answer through the stories published the next day.
Subimal Bhattacharjee: The former country manager of General Dynamics and the director of Jookto, Subimal Bhattacharjee is a bridge that connects the youth of Barak Valley to the rest of the country. Subimal Bhattacharjee is also a columnist and he often shares his idea of bringing Barak Valley from the periphery to the core in his articles. His foundation- Jookto, has commissioned many intellectual projects in the valley giving the performing artists a platform.
From producing short films to making documentaries and financing dramas, sponsoring cricket tournaments, conventions, Jookto, and Subimal Bhattacharjee play a big role in growing the art, culture and entrepreneurship in Barak Valley. Jookto’s annual event, Colours of Barak which is organised in Delhi is already an established intellectual property and the artists of Barak Valley wait for it. As the startup culture develops in Barak Valley, Bhattacharjee will play a big role when it comes to mentoring and mushrooming future leaders.
Kamalakhya Dey Purakayastha: Purkayastha is two-time MLA from North Karimganj. But besides that, he is also known as ‘108’, the emergency service. His name in the list might surprise many but he deserves it. Whenever anyone is in problem, his number is on speed dial. Lovingly called KDP, he is renowned for being just a phone call away for everyone. Though he won the 2016 electoral battle with a very short margin, his following since has increased manifold. From pallbearer of a flood victim to being a barber for a poor man, his unique way of public outreach has surprised not only the people of the valley but the whole state.
Recently, he was seen sitting in dharna outside Assam Assembly against the incessant power cuts in the Karimganj district. He was also seen many times putting across the pains of the Bengalis in Assam Assembly, Bhasha Shahid Smaran Station and recognition for the martyrs of May 19, 1961. In the current political scenario, if Congress has to make a comeback in Barak Valley, Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha has to play an integral part.
Joydeep Biswas: Head of the department, Statistics and associate professor Economics, Cachar College, Joydeep Biswas is not on the list because of his teaching skills. As a columnist and political commentator, he is one of the most popular critiques in Barak Valley. He writes in both English and Bengali, which enhances the reach. His authored articles are often published in Anandabazaar Patrika, Aajkal, The Hindu and other premier publications. Biswas is known for his fearless writing and he has the courage to call a spade a spade.
Often on television debates, Biswas is seen contesting opinions which he does not subscribe to. With the final draft of NRC around us, Joydeep Biswas is certainly going to be one of the representatives in TV channels reaching out to the mass and his opinion will highlight the mood of the valley. Apart from that he also encourages the youth towards debate, quiz and many other productive cultural activities. Biswas makes it into the list because of his mass appeal and influence across all age-group.
Sushmita Dev: She is not the MP anymore. After facing the biggest electoral defeat of her political career Dev, much like Congress is battling for relevance. She is often criticised for prioritising national roles over the interest of the people of Barak Valley. However, she remains an integral part of the Valley as one of the biggest opposition leaders. Rahul Gandhi had immense trust on her, and she is the party’s national president of the women wing. How the dynamics change with Sonia Gandhi becoming the new president and what role will Dev play in Congress, remains to be seen.
After the general elections, Dev said that Congress will make an immediate comeback in the upcoming Municipal elections. If that has to happen, Dev will have to play a vital role. If that does not happen, both Congress and Dev will face an existential crisis. She makes it into the list because of her role as an opposition leader and her position in Congress and its comeback.
Ashu Paul: Anybody can donate blood and save a life. The message is quite simple but there is hardly any messiah trying to communicate this message and generate awareness. One such messiah is Mohitosh Paul popularly known as Ashu Paul. He retired as an engineer, town and planning department. While most of the government employees prefer to spend the post-retired life in leisure traveling around the world he took a mission, mission to save lifes.
The backbone of Barak Valley Voluntary Blood Donor Forum, Paul works selflessly for the benefit of others. He educates and influences individuals to volunteer in blood donation to ensure that people do not die due to a shortage of blood. He along with his partners organised hundreds of blood donation camps, seminars to aware people. One of the most awareness drive orchestrated by him was the Silchar to Wagah border blood donation bike rally. Journalist Biswakalyan (Tilak) Purkayastha, who was also on the road with him said the number of young minds, Ashu Paul influenced in that trip, will stay as an inspiration to him all his life.
Taimur Raja Chaudhury: Entrepreneurship has only become a buzzword now. 50 years back it was only government job or family business that one had to choose from. Back then this man thought of being an industrialist. Today he is one of the most successful ones in Barak Valley. While he is the editor and founder of daily broadsheet, Samayik Prasanga he makes into the list as an employer creating employment opportunities for the youth in Barak Valley. However, his publication too is a significant one. Samayik Prasanga is known for its investigative journalism and fear-none attitude.
Apart from being an editor, he is omnipresent in the social welfare committees. Whenever there is an intellectual meet anywhere in Cachar, Taimur Raja Choudhury is an integral part of it, which makes him an extremely important and influential individual in Barak Valley.
Rahul Singh: If you saw Riyan Parag doing Bihu dance after picking wickets for Rajasthan Royals and felt proud about it, then this is the cricketer you need to keep an eye on. Itkhola born Rahul Singh won the prestigious MA Chidambaram award last year, for being the highest wicket-taker in the under-19 level. He shared the podium with Virat Kohli during Naman (BCCI’s annual event). In an interaction with Barak Bulletin, Rahul said that he dreams to share the cricket field with Kohli and play for India one day.
Cricket became so big in India because it always had local and regional role models who inspired the youth to pick up the bat or swing the leather ball. Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar influenced Sachin Tendulkar and his entire generation. Sachin is admired by the current Indian team and the trend continues. Barak Valley or Assam never had a local hero for the youth to look up as an inspiration. While anyone who plays at the State level is a great success story, Rahul Singh, with age on his side, could make it to the next level and be a role model for generations to follow.
Chitrabhanu Bhowmik: One of the all-time finest playwrights and directors of Barak Valley, Chitrabhanu Bhowmik makes it into the list because of his influence in the field of art, culture and literature. He and his team recently went to National School of Drama with ‘Pothua’ (Roadie) a play written and directed by Bhowmik. A retired government employee, Chitrabhanu Bhowmik mostly writes about social issues and his plays depict the ground reality.
Though he is a director and commands everyone on the stage, in real life he is a very soft-spoken and approachable human being. Whoever joins his team, he takes special care to groom them into the groove. His colleagues and co-partisans describe him as someone who doesn’t like the limelight and prefers to be backstage.
There is no denying that our list is debatable. But here is how we made it. We looked at Barak Valley through the lens of Barak Bulletin. In the past 18 months, we have published more than 2000 stories which were read more than a million times by around 6 lakh readers coming from 182 countries across the globe. This list is a mix of our editorial coverage, internal brainstorming, and most importantly user analytics like time spent reading about individuals, most-read stories, most commented, liked and shared stories and all. At the end of the day, this is a list prepared by us using our wisdom and I am sure everyone else will have a different list. If there is anyone else publishing a similar list I would love to read it and won’t contest at all.
After I have explained the procedure followed by us I would like to state that when I look at the list my heart fills with pain. In the list of 15, there are only two women. Next year when we make the list we hope to have a better balance. Another thing that I would like to mention is that each MLA, MP, Bureaucrat is very important and influential, but we wanted it to be a list comprising of individuals from various fields and not only politics and bureaucracy.
Lastly, we are not doing something unique. Each and every publication in India and globally publish a list like this, we are just learning from the pioneers in the business. Soon we plan to come up with a list of young achievers to motivate young individuals like Rohan Biswas of Commoners, Satyabrata Bhattacharjee, the young boy who manages traffic voluntarily and many others. Staying true to our promise we will keep ourselves focussed on Barak Valley and hopefully, someday, we will manage to feature all the efforts in Barak Valley. We have a long way to go as I feel we have done 1% so far.
Thank you, readers,